Thursday, September 21, 2017
Flash Fiction #269-- Dusty & Friends/14
Riding for so long in the desert heat left Dusty half-ill by mid-morning. Fox made her stop and poured water over her -- a shock of cold across her face and hair, but she felt better afterward.
"Oh, but we might have needed that water!" she protested once her thoughts cleared.
"We'll be fine. We aren't that far from the river," Fox assured her and sounded so confident that she decided to trust his words. The water was drying on her too fast, though. She knew that she'd be just as miserable as she had been before too long.
When Dusty looked back, she could see a broad line of billowing sand.
"We've gained about ten miles on them," Fox said as he looked, too. "They can make that up pretty fast if we don't work at staying ahead."
"I don't mean to slow us down," she said. "I've just never ridden like this before."
"You haven't slowed us down at all!" Fox protested and sounded sincere. "We can't run the horses much harder, you know. I only noticed you were not doing well after we slowed. But that's alright. You have done far better than I would have expected from someone raised at court."
"I only spend part of the year there, you know. And I never did fit in well."
"Not being like all the others isn't such a bad thing, is it?" Fox asked. He sounded sincerely concerned and interested.
"Before all of this stated, I should have told Grandmother -- The Queen -- what path I wanted to take in my life. All my cousins knew what they wanted, but I couldn't come up with anything," she admitted and felt that wave of dejection retake her.
"Oh, I know what you should be," he said and smiled brightly when she looked his way. "Mistress of the Horse and Keeper of All Things Wild."
He made her laugh -- though maybe there was something to what he said.
At least he gave her something to think about while the cool water evaporated from her face and clothing. She focused on what such a job might be like, and in that way let her mind wander away from the heat and the trouble following behind them. Dusty trusted Fox.
"We've gone over halfway," Fox said sometime later. "I fear we are going to have to ride hard again, Dusty. They're gaining ground."
She looked back with a start and saw that he was right. All thoughts about caring for horses and walking the woods disappeared, though she found that the images had refreshed her. She could see something for the future, and even if it wasn't true, it gave her hope.
When she looked back, she could see that the orcs were moving faster again and were far closer than she liked. She checked on Blue, but he was asleep and didn't seem to be any worse for the heat. He'd ate part of the apple slice, which at least gave him some liquid. He was also not in the direct sunlight, but it still could not be comfortable for him. Blue did not complain, just blinked sleepily at her, stretched a little, and then curled up in a ball.
"We have to ride faster again," she said. They were already starting to gain speed, her horse matching pace with Fox's mount. "Be careful in there."
"I will," Blue muttered, but she suspected he was mostly asleep. She hoped he stayed that way and didn't suffer too much.
She could suddenly hear the grunts of the orcs behind them. So did the horses and they'd rested just enough that they were eager to run again and get ahead of the enemy again, though they could not run far. The land looked flat here, and she hoped to see the river -- but the glare of light on the sand made looking too far ahead painful.
They rode faster and then slower, and then faster again, though not for long. The orcs did fall behind once more, though not by very far.
Dusty considered giving Blue over to Fox and telling him to ride on without her. She trusted that he would do his best to get the baby dragon back to the castle if he was able -- but then she realized that no one there would understand Blue anyway. Oh, they would figure things out, but she could help settle everything faster. Besides, if something did happen to Fox, Blue would have no one to turn to.
She held the bag more protectively, leaning forward a little --
"Is that -- is that green ahead of us?" she whispered, her throat almost too dry to speak.
Fox stood up in his saddle as though he could see better that way. Then he turned a dusty faced smile to her. "It is! And I think the horses smell the water of the river. They're starting to move faster. There should be a dock at the end of the trail. There might be a boat, and maybe even a small fishing village, though it moves."
"Moves?' she asked, squeaking out the one word.
"The river changes with the seasons. The villages along the edge shift to the better places for fishing. Right now, early in the spring, they'll likely be upriver closer to the mountains where they can get the most fish coming down from the mountain thaw."
"I didn't realize," she said, surprised by the lack of knowledge. She tried to learn everything she could about the people around her. "I knew they went fishing upstream, but I didn't realize the whole village --"
A sudden roar of sound from behind startled her, Fox, and the horses. She thought Blue even moved in his bag.
"They know the water's there now as well," Fox said. They could both see the orcs starting to move faster. "Hold on tight again, Dusty. This is it."